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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Pondering Kristaps Porzingis and what might have been with Knicks

Frank Ntilikina #11 of the Knicks goes to

Frank Ntilikina #11 of the Knicks goes to the hoop in the first half between Luka Doncic #77 and Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Take that, Kristaps Porzingis.

You and your Dallas Mavericks are 0-2 against the Knicks this season. You're fortunate that there’s no chance of meeting them in the playoffs, because this rag-tag team has your number.

Now, excuse me as I remove my tongue from my cheek, because the Knicks' 106-103 win over Dallas and the teammate who abandoned them could very well be as good as it gets this season. Knicks fans can boo all they want, but you can bet they all know deep down that they would be better off if Porzingis were still wearing a Knicks uniform.

The last time we saw Porzingis on the court at Madison Square Garden, he was sprawled on the baseline writhing in pain with a torn ACL. Twenty-one months later, it is the Knicks fans who have spent most of the season writhing in pain.

In so many ways, Knicks fans are a hardy, loyal bunch who know how to survive lean years. On Thursday night, they did it by booing and profanely serenading Porzingis, a player they once believed would lead their team back to respectability.

“It doesn’t matter,” Porzingis said after his 20-point, 11-rebound game when asked about the fans' reaction. “I’m not going to try to win them over now. It is what it is. I understand where they are coming from. Whatever happened is in the past."

Yet looking at what the Knicks have devolved into, it’s hard to blame Porzingis for wanting to play elsewhere.

The Knicks squad that took the court Thursday night to play Porzingis’ Mavericks was no run-of-the-mill mess. It was a two-win, drama-laden, finger-pointing disaster. It was a team that unbelievably has taken less than a month to find itself in the middle of a coaching deathwatch despite the fact that coach David Fizdale had been with the team just over a year and has 2 1/2 years left on his contract.

One finger that hasn’t been pointed, however, is at the Porzingis injury itself. I’m not saying the Knicks would be a playoff team if Porzingis hadn’t blown out his knee. But, it’s interesting to wonder exactly where this team would be if KP hadn’t landed awkwardly after a spectacular dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo on Feb. 6, 2017.

Boo all you want, but the Knicks once had a player who could dunk on the Greek Freak, who could hold his own with some of the better players in the game. When he was injured, Porzingis had just been named an All-Star reserve and was averaging 22.7 points and 2.4 blocks.

If Porzingis had remained healthy, would they have hired Fizdale? Probably, but they wouldn’t have had to depend on him so heavily to lure top free agents to the team. Top NBA players like  LeBron James may have liked hanging out with Fizdale when he was an assistant coach in Miami, but has any player in the history of any sport ever come to a team because they wanted to hang out with the coach? Top NBA free agents would have been a lot more attracted by the prospect of playing next to Porzingis.

If Porzingis had been healthy and playing like an All-Star last season, would he have been so unhappy that he wanted to be traded? Would the Knicks have dealt him to Dallas for next to nothing except for cap room to sign two max free agents? Would Knicks fans have had to endure the season they did as the team attempted to tank for a 14 percent chance of winning the lottery?

Without Porzingis, the Knicks put all their eggs in one free agency basket and ended up with egg on their face. Not only did Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving sign with the Knicks' crosstown rivals, but other top free agents showed little interest.

So we ended up with the odd collection of mid-level free agents and young players that Fizdale has been trying to mold into a team. On Thursday night, they looked like a pretty decent one, pulling out a big win in an atmosphere that will be the closest thing they see to a playoff-like atmosphere this season.

Enjoy it now. Porzingis may not have had a great night against the Knicks on Thursday night, but you can bet he will have a lot more good nights this season than the Knicks will. 

New York Sports